By John Mullen

That looks about right. Put it there.

Oops.

When the City of Orange Beach began construction on its current sewer plant in 2008, the plan was to put it on a 40-acre parcel near the city Sportsplex and east of Powerline Road.

According to Orange Beach Coastal Resources Director Phillip West, a few years later — the summer of 2010, he guesses — Greg Lein of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources discovered something was amiss with the location. He brought it to the attention of Barnett Lawley, conservation commissioner at the time.

“The whole thing’s on state land,” West said. “We’ve got title to the 40 acres next to the Sportsplex and we’ve not got title to the 40 where the sewer plant is.”

Exactly how did a $23 million sewer plant for the city end up on Gulf State Park property?

“I don’t really have a good answer for you,” current Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said.

Orange Beach City Administrator Ken Grimes, like Blankenship, wasn’t working in his current job when the plant was planned and construction begun. But both have been involved in the process to compensate the state.

“All the planning indicated it was going right there,” Grimes said. “I don’t believe there was a survey done at the time. The plant was there because the assumption was made that that was the site.”

Grimes says the most likely culprit is a minuscule error on a deed that became a 40-acre mistake.

“Probably as simple as something like one letter,” Grimes said. “You look at all the different letters and it could be one letter off from northwest or northeast. What we’ve determined is more likely a scrivener’s error at the time.”

Now the City of Orange Beach and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are nearing the end of a land swap to rectify the situation. Eventually, the state will take ownership of about 40 acres east of the sewer plant site.

Because the land was partially paid for by a United States Fish and Wildlife Service grant when originally acquired, getting all the “i’s dotted and t’s crossed” has taken a few years.

“We had to find a like value for what we needed to swap,” Blankenship said. “It took some environmental review and it had to go through review with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and then out for public review. It’s just taken quite a bit of time to satisfy the requirements of the Fish and Wildlife Service.”

But he believes all that’s in order and now it’s time to get the information to Grimes and Orange Beach officials to finish the process.

“Now we’re just waiting on the City of Orange Beach to do whatever they need to do for us to be able to move toward closing,” Blankenship said. “I don’t think we have a target imminent. It just needs to go, I think, through the Orange Beach City Council. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that right away.”

Grimes said the city hasn’t received the paperwork yet but is ready to move forward as soon as it arrives.

“I think the survey was completed in the last six months and that’s what defined the swap,” he said. “It’s more housekeeping than anything. Obviously, the plant was built where it was planned to be built. We’ve been operating the plant now for many years.”

The plant went online in 2011, city officials confirmed.

Photo | John Mullen – The city of Orange Beach is negotiating a land swap with the state of Alabama after building its wastewater treatment plant on the wrong property.